The Film Business

Indie Films End First Quarter on a High Note

The independent film segment of the domestic theatrical boxoffice started slowly but had a blockbuster March, ending the first quarter with $1.2 billion, 7 percent ahead of the same time last year. The total domestic box office for 2014 was $2.4 billion. March was especially busy, with a $508 million increase over February 2014. In addition, there was a wonderful variety of genres. The indies’ share of the boxoffice benefited from the new focus on faith-based films, represented by the release of Son of God and God’s Not Dead. The latter, with a budget of less than $1.0 million (according to TFE’s sources) and lacking the advantage of a massive following from a previous television series, earned an impressive $22.5 million in its first 11 days of release. Divergent, which earned $94.4 million thru March, is the first film of a yet another YA book franchise. Insurgent (Divergent Part II) is slated for release on March 20, 2015, and the book Allegiant will be made into two movies scheduled for March release dates in 2016 and 2017. Tyler Perry’s Single Mom’s Club and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel earned $15.1 and $24.2 million from their target audiences. Why did I mention the directors in these cases? Directors with a unique voice sometimes can be considered their own film genre and have target audiences that go to a film in those crucial initial weekends. Then word-of-mouth (now known as Twitter and Facebook) brings in moviegoers in succeeding weeks. Altogether, the 62 indie films released in March totaled $181 million, or 36 percent of the month’s total indie grosses, including films released previously.

Photo by Kenneth Lu

A strong combination of new and “old” films made up the March total. Among holdovers from 2013, American Hustle and Lone Survivor were two of the top ten grossers of all films for March to-date, according to boxoffice.com. For the month of March, the 2014 indie film releases among the top ten grossers were Divergent, Mr Peabody and Sherman, Non-Stop, Son of God, Need for Speed and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The variety of independent films with different genres and small to large budgets points out the strength of what often is referred to in a group as “specialty” or “art house” films. We are long past the time when independent films were low-budget movies with hard to distribute, odd or “arty” plots made on a camcorder with the director’s best friends. For films released in 2014, 43 percent of the films had revenue under $5 million with many still in release. That does not mean they were all low-budget, however. For many, we may never know their budgets. As we all know, a film of any budget is still a risk. I will close this discussion with a very keen observation from Gary Sussman (quoted in moviefone.com blog, “Box Office: What’s Behind the Surprising Success of God’s Not Dead?” http://news.moviefone.com/2014/03/24/box-office-gods-not-dead ).

“It seems every time there’s a huge debut among a market perceived to be a small niche ― whether it’s Christian moviegoers or black audiences or Latinos or women ― the industry treats it as a fluke, a rare exception to the mainstream formula filmmaking and demographic marketing that the industry relies on. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? How many flukes do there have to be before they’re seen not as the exception but the rule?”

Excerpt from The Film Entrepreneur: A Newsletter for Independent Filmmakers and Investors (Vol. 21, No.3) by Louise Levison © Copyright March 2014 Business Strategies

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